How to Get a California Divorce Decree

By David Carnes

Divorce law is state law; California's divorce law contains distinctive features such as the concept of community property. The ease with which you may obtain a divorce in California depends on several factors including whether you have children, how complex your finances are, and whether your spouse is contesting the divorce. If the divorce is contested, you will almost certainly need to hire an attorney, although California does not require that you do so.

Step 1

Obtain proof of residence in California. At least one spouse must have resided in California for at least six months prior to the filing of a divorce petition -- and that spouse must have resided in the county where the petition is filed for at least three months before the petition is filed. A California driver's license issued at least six months before the petition filing date will probably be sufficient. Although you may not be asked for proof of residence unless your spouse claims that you have not met residency requirements, it is a good idea to be ready to provide proof if it is demanded.

Step 2

Obtain a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, a summons, a proof of service form, as well as a financial affidavit if there is no divorce agreement, from the clerk of the California Superior Court that has jurisdiction over your county. If you have retained a lawyer, your lawyer can provide you with these documents.

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Step 3

Submit your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, summons and proof of service form to the court clerk along with the divorce agreement or the financial affidavit and the appropriate filing fee, which is $320 in most jurisdictions at the time of publication. A third party, usually a local official, must serve your spouse a summons and deliver proof of service to the court. After your spouse is served, the court will set a hearing date if necessary.

Step 4

File a motion for a default judgment if your spouse does not file an answer to your petition within 30 days. If a default is entered, you will be granted a divorce on your own terms, unless your spouse is able to take advantage of one of the few legal grounds for vacating a default judgment.

Step 5

Catalog all your assets, income and expenses. Fill out a financial affidavit to disclose this information; file it with the court clerk by the local deadline. Your spouse must file a similar document; you must receive a copy of it.

Step 6

Draw up a divorce agreement detailing property division, child support and child custody arrangements. Sign it and have your spouse sign it in the presence of a notary public; have the notary public acknowledge it by signing and placing his seal on it. File the agreement with the court clerk. Although a divorce agreement is not required, if you can reach agreement on the relevant issues with your spouse, there will be no need for a divorce hearing. If there is no agreement, the court will set a hearing date and notify you.

Step 7

Attend the hearing and file motions for child support and spousal support as appropriate. You and your spouse will be entitled to call witnesses, submit evidence and give testimony. The judge may schedule more than one hearing.

Step 8

File a proposed court order for the judge to sign. The order should reflect your desired terms for the issues involved in the divorce. Although the judge may or may not sign your proposed order, he will issue a divorce decree that includes terms determined by the court. If there is a divorce agreement, the divorce decree is likely to mirror its terms.

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